Chicago gets mediation program for police misconduct complaints

It’s no secret that many Chicagoans, especially black and brown residents, have second thoughts, or sometimes worse, about the police.

Rebuilding that trust is critical and can help keep communities safe, criminal justice experts, neighborhood activists and senior Chicago Police Department officials have repeatedly stressed.

In hopes of moving toward that goal and expediting some low-level malpractice investigations, Chicago launched a six-month community mediation program last week that will allow residents and officers to resolve minor confrontations. with the help of mediators from the Conflict Resolution Center.

The pilot program is intended to meet a requirement set for the city under the 2019 Police Reform Approval Order. Which means Chicago — albeit spurred by a federal court order — is finally jumping on the bandwagon with other cities that have already established successful mediation initiatives.

Cities across the country, including New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Denver, have had community mediation services in place for years, as Rae Kyritsi, director of programs for the Chicago-based Center for Conflict Resolution , 43 years old, tell us.

Each municipality has its own tailored action plan, so what works elsewhere may not work in Chicago, Kyritsi said.

But no matter how well these initiatives work, they have proven to be effective. They build understanding between a police service and its community, and reduce time and costs, depending on the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. Studies also show that police and civilians involved in the mediation process are more satisfied than their counterparts engaged in the traditional complaints investigation process, the national civilian watchdog association said.

The types of complaints to be mediated, depending on the citywill include “allegations related to perceived bias in policing or failure to provide appropriate service”.

Face-to-face meetings in a safe space will be an opportunity to clear the air and allow both parties to hear a point of view they had not considered before.

Take an opportunity

Mediators will not provide advice or opinions on how to resolve a dispute. Instead, the goal will be to create an opportunity for the officer and civilian to have a productive conversation about the incident and come to an agreement on a workable resolution.

And while neither the complainant nor the officer is required to participate in the program, we certainly hope that senior police officials – and the Fraternal Order of Police – will encourage officers to participate.

So are the city’s many police reform activists, who are expected to encourage community participation. It’s a chance to make good use of a tool for reform that has been proven elsewhere.

If either or both parties do not wish to speak, the matter will be referred to the Civilian Police Accountability Office and the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Internal Affairs, and allegations of misconduct will be dealt with under the standard procedure.

The hope, however, is that officers and residents will be willing to come together and resolve the complaints, which also include allegations of unnecessary physical conduct and unprofessionalism.

Using mediation to address lower-level misconduct complaints will also, if the program is successful, ease COPA’s burden, allowing it to focus on the most serious of the thousands of complaints filed each year.

And the more residents and police are involved, the better data stakeholders can sift through to assess how well the program is working and make improvements, if needed.

Such programs are “effective only when they are a resource for the community,” as Kyritsi summed it up.

The pilot program is expected to last six months. A trust bridge won’t be finished by then, but the construction can at least begin.

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Ryan H. Bowman